Is violent crime on the increase or decrease in the United States?

In the first debate between Clinton and Trump, the question of whether violent crime is on the increase was one of the points raised by the Republican nominee and left to float about the discussion without any clarity.  Campaigns as the candidates do them now, though, aren’t based on facts and logic, as shown by the choices made by the two major parties.  So it’s up to us as voters to pull out the tangle of weeds to find a valid basis for our conclusions.

According to the FBI, there has been a 3.7 percent increase in overall violent crime, including an 11.8 percent increase in homicides in 2015 over 2014’s figures.  This puts 2015 in the middle for number of violent offenses over the last five years, and the data illustrate how fluctuations from one year to the next do not a trend make.  Just as Missouri’s homicide rate appeared to believers in gun control to have risen in the year following the repeal of a permit to purchase a handgun, but in fact showed no such thing when the rate is considered over many years, changes from one year to the next in the number of murders tempt some people to leap to unwarranted conclusions.

One example of such a leap comes from Daniel Horowitz of the Conservative Review.  In his article, “The FBI Report that destroys Hillary on crime, police, and race relations,” he argues that police measures such as “stop and frisk” and longer prison sentences are “undeniably a major part” in the reduction of violence over the last several decades and that the “war on cops” is the cause of the current reversal.

The explanation that Horowitz offers—one that ignores the legitimate grievances that minorities have in this nation with the police in particular and with structural inequality generally—is popular among some in the right wing, since law and order too often means the exercise of government power against people perceived to be the other side of us and them.

It’s true that blacks commit homicides at rates much higher than their percentage of the population would indicate.  Put people in servitude, poverty, segregation, and the host of other offenses that have been committed against African-Americans, and it should come as no surprise that violence is seen as a way of life.  The majority can hardly feel smug when minorities apply the lessons that we’ve taught.

Horowitz wants tougher policing as a solution for this situation.  Exerting government power against people we don’t like is an easy out, but as the history of tyranny after tyranny has shown, when we accept doing unto others what we would never want done to us, that bargain never turns out well for anyone.

I’ve spent seventeen years in education, so it will come as no surprise to anyone that I call for money for schools.  But the evidence on the limited question of violence supports this solution.  The more education a person has, the fewer violent crimes that person is likely to commit.  This is not a guarantee.  The 9/11 terrorists were educated and from the middle class, for example.  The overall numbers, however, tell us that education leads to opportunity.

Beyond that, we have to point out when the police have violated the rights of citizens.  This is one step to show that we understand the need to respect the rights of all—respect the right to be treated the same by the police, among many other interactions with the government— if we want the same respect in return.  We gun owners may be a large minority, but we’re still in the minority, and we can’t afford to reject potential allies, and alliances depend on both sides doing the work to help each other.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of

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